Chinese Army In Control Of Much Of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Says Expert27 August 2010
Mumbai: The storm over China’s denial of a visa to an Indian general serving in Jammu & Kashmir may be only a “diversionary sideshow” compared to another far more serious development - the “effective control” by the Chinese army of large swathes of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), strategic analysts told DNA. “A large tract of territory in PoK is now under the effective control of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” a Singapore-based analyst who returned recently from Afghanistan said on the condition of anonymity. The development holds “enormous significance” for India’s security interests on its north-western border, far more than the “storm in a Chinese tea-cup” over China’s denial of a visa to Lt-Gen BS Jaswal, he added. Indian officials say they are aware of the presence of Chinese troops in PoK. An external affairs ministry spokesperson told DNA on Friday: “We are aware of the activities in PoK.We have categorically stated that the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir is a part of India and any activity should take place with our permission.” Asked if the government was specifically aware of the presence of the Chinese army and other agencies in building roads, he said: “We are aware of it and we have made our views known.” Asked about the Chinese response, he added, “We have made our position clear and the Chinese are aware of it.” The denial of visa, on the ground that Jaswal was in operational command of Jammu & Kashmir, which China considers disputed territory, provoked a strong response from India on Friday. The Chinese ambassador was called to the foreign ministry and visas denied to some Chinese military personnel. Demarches were also sent to Beijing to protest the denial of a visa to Lt Gen Jaswal. China has in the past circulated maps depicting Kashmir as a ‘country’ separate from India, and controversially granted stapled visas to travellers from the state. Some analysts point out that China’s latest provocation comes amidst increasing signs of Chinese assertiveness on other frontiers. “It’s difficult to say how this decision was made by China’s intricate bureaucracy, but it comes at a time when Beijing is flexing its muscle in various territorial disputes,” reasons Jonathan Holslag, research fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies and author of China and India: Prospects for Peace. “Clearly, China has upped the stakes in the conflict over Arunachal Pradesh, but now Kashmir too is rising again to prominence as a bargaining chip and a crucial strategic corridor,” Holslag noted. China, he added, is “increasingly visible in all kinds of construction and water management projects” in PoK. Other analysts see China’s pin-pricks vis-a-vis Kashmir and its on-the-ground activities in Pakistan as part of a strategy to keep India preoccupied with its western border, and away from China. “China’s consistent strategy for more than a decade has been to keep India distracted towards the north,” says John Lee, a foreign-policy research fellow at the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies and a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute. Lee reckons that the visa denial may be tied to a “perception within Chinese strategic circles that India did not respond positively to China’s ‘soft’ approach of recent years - and, on the contrary, strengthened strategic relations with the US and with countries in South East Asia.” Chinese strategic circles are pitching for a “hardening” of China’s relationship with India “because they believe they don’t have much to lose, given what’s happened in the last few years.” China believes India is becoming much more assertive strategically in south-east Asia, he adds. Prof Dibyesh Anand of the University of Westminster in London points out that in recent years there has been a strident articulation of China’s “core national interests”, and the “change of tack in Kashmir” - if confirmed as official policy - could be “part of this assertion”.India, adds Anand, should seek clarification not only on the denial of the general’s visa but on China’s position on Jammu & Kashmir. “When China insists that India repeatedly iterate its recognition of the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of China, there’s no reason why India cannot seek a similar clarification.” And if, he adds, China views the entire Jammu & Kashmir as disputed territory, “India needs to rethink its entire China policy - because this will clearly be an interference in India’s internal affairs and in bilateral relations with Pakistan.” But looking beyond the latest episode, Anand says that a resolution of the Sino-Indian border dispute is critical. “Cooperative relations between the two countries will not count for much so long as the border dispute is alive.” And, in his estimation, the border dispute is “not only about strategic priorities but more importantly about nationalist narratives.” In these narratives, China sees India as an “irritant, a country willing to work with the US to harm China.” India, on the other hand, sees China as “untrustworthy and working closely with Pakistan.” And Indian and Chinese leaders, says Anand, “have shown no interest in changing these nationalist narratives.” Holslag believes that “as much as China is struggling with a growing sense of strategic claustrophobia, other powers are fretting about what they perceive as China’s growing assertiveness.” These security dilemmas, he adds, “will become more pressing in a region where balances of power alter rapidly, especially when territorial interests are at stake.” As for India’s response to the latest provocation, “escalation management is the key,” says Holslag. India, he notes, has responded “proportionately by blocking a few visits, while keeping most military exchanges on track.” But with continued “wrangling over Pakistan, proliferating trade disputes, hardening positions in border negotiations, and growing nationalism,” Sino-Indian relations will become “increasingly difficult to manage,” he reckons.